Sports Journalism in Odisha
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Sports Journalism in Odisha

Dr. Mrinal Chatterjee

The word "Sport" comes from the Old French desport meaning "leisure." The Persian word for "sport" is based on the root bord, meaning "winning". The Chinese term for "sport," tiyu connotes "physical training". The Modern Greek term for sport is  athlitismos directly cognate with the English terms "athlete" and "athleticism”.

There are artefacts and structures that suggest that the Chinese engaged in sporting activities as early as 4000 BC. Gymnastics appears to have been a popular sport in China's ancient past. Monuments to the Pharaohs indicate that a number of sports, including swimming and fishing, were well-developed and regulated several thousands of years ago in ancient Egypt. Other Egyptian sports included javelin throwing, high jump, and wrestling. Ancient Persian sports such as the traditional Iranian martial art of Zourkhaneh had a close connection to the warfare skills. Among other sports that originate in ancient Persia are polo and jousting. Horse racing, archery were popular sports in ancient India. A wide range of sports were already established by the time of Ancient Greece and the military culture and the development of sports in Greece influenced one another considerably. Sports became such a prominent part of their culture that the Greeks created the Olympic Games, which in ancient times were held every four years in a small village in the Peloponnesus called Olympia.

Sports have been increasingly organized and regulated from the time of the Ancient Olympics up to the present century. However, horses, which some paleontologists believe may have originally evolved from dinosaurs, may have the right to claim the first glimmers of sports journalism, writes Jennifer Smith . In 1727, The Racing Calendar offered information about races and their results. In 1791, The General Stud book was added. The English were curious about the lineage of their horses too.  Boxing was also a popular sport in London. Champion Daniel Mendoza wrote a book titled ‘The Art of Boxing’.

From these times, the publications for men told of great battles between men and if they fought for fun, exercise or settling a wager. Even back then, the details involving blood, bruises and broken bones excited men. The sport gained in popularity after readers caught on to the idea of beating someone without getting in trouble. Women were not allowed in any sports establishment in London, and most had no desire to change this rule.

In the 1800s, the idea of basketball took shape. Soon other sports followed. Industrialization brought increased leisure time to the citizens of developed and developing countries, leading to more time for citizens to attend and follow spectator sports, greater participation in athletic activities, and increased accessibility. These trends continued with the advent of mass media and global communication. 

 In the early part of the 1900s, America dealt with the full impact of the Industrial Revolution and World War I. The times preceding the First World War brought a new life to the game of golf, which has its early origins in Scotland. It became a popular game and had several magazines devoted to it. This included The American Golfer. Published by Conde Nast, it was founded in the early half of the 1900s. Its covers featured golf greats, including Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen and Byron Nelson .

The Depression and World War II brought a halt to sports in USA, UK and most of the European countries as scores of men and women left home to fight the war. It was after the Second World War that organised sports celebrated a rebirth in practically every place in the world.

Sports Illustrated (SI), arguably one of the most popular magazines for sports journalism was published in August 1954. The first cover featured slugger Eddie Matthews of the Milwaukee Braves.

Back then, executives of Time Inc, publisher SI did not know much about sports journalism. The lay out and style of the magazine changed from one week to the next as they tried different ideas. Still, the topics offered readers a full range of information and photographs regarding different sports. These included everything from football and basketball to gymnastics and even bullfighting! The earlier issues featured how-to tips too.

Once the readership became established, SI enticed fans with "a three-page center foldout of 1954 Topps baseball cards." Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson and Ted Williams were featured on the cards, which were "printed on the same paper stock as the magazine." In January 1964, the first issue  of "Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue" showing a woman with a white two-piece suit caused an instant reaction, though the picture was "tame by today's standards." In the early days of the magazine African Americans did not enjoy social equality. But SI made no distinction and regularly  featured black athletes including Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan. In fact Ali and Jordan were featured on the front cover more times than any other athletes. It featured non-athlete faces too, including Bob Hope, Ernest Hemingway and President John F. Kennedy.

Newspapers in USA and UK provided sports coverage from the first days of publishing, although the coverage was basic and sparse. Writers often did not know much about the sports themselves. Occasionally, a sportswriter would actually have a working knowledge of the game.
Times changed when accuracy and details became more important. This was when the focus was on the sensational bits of news and facts often went unverified, if they were facts at all. As credible papers debuted, sportswriters needed more knowledge of the sport they covered.

With time, sports gained more popularity. With the arrival and development of television and internet sporting events became even more popular. In fact it is a multi-billion dollar industry now, demanding better, exhaustive and in depth coverage. Besides journalists, players also started writing and commenting on the sporting events. This made former athletes more valuable and offered them chance to stay "in the game" instead of disappearing from sight.

Sports Journalism in India:

Sports journalism in India does not have a long history. It was in late thirties that Times of India. Bombay (now Mumbai) started a separate sports page. This bold and ‘revolutionary’ step was resented by some readers who had no interest in sports but the majority of the readers liked it. Its sports page became so popular that other newspapers followed suit. But till independence few newspapers had regular sports page. Among those few was The Hindu. Apart from being the pioneer in designing and developing the concept of the sports page, The Hindu also played a consistent and committed role as a promoter of sports, long before the theme of sponsorship acquired its presentday dynamics. The initiative towards devoting a separate section to sport in the daily newspaper came from the then publisher, Kasturi Gopalan, “the father of the sports page,” as Rangaswamy Parthasarathy noted in “A Hundred Years of The Hindu.” Lending a helping hand to Kasturi Gopalan, a fine hockey and tennis player in his college days, was the first sportswriter of The Hindu, Murugesa Mudaliar.

Sports journalism started developing after independence. It developed fast. At present almost all mainstream newspapers have separate sports page/s and dedicated staff to generate and design content for the sports pages. During major sports tournament, sports news occupies prominent position in the front page. Periodicals devoted to sports are published in almost all languages.  Sports journalism gradually evolved as a specialized field. Among all sports cricket is the most popular in India. In fact ‘crime, cricket, cinema’ form the bulk of news in tabloid press. After television made its entry in a big way, sports journalism further developed. As television showed ‘what is happening’, print media journalist tried to focus on the intricacies of the game. It tried to focus on ‘why and what next’. Internet came as a boon for sports journalism, as it had the plus points of both the media.  At present there are several hundred sites focusing exclusively on sports in India.

An interesting aspect of present state of sports journalism is, along with the journalists, sportspersons are also actively engaged in the field. They write columns and commentary, and anchor sports-based television shows.

This was what veteran sports journalist K. Sundar Rajan wrote about the change in sports journalism in India in the last 6 decades: “It has been a long way from TT journalism to LT journalism. By TT I mean telegram and telephone and LT represents laptop. In my early days I had to depend upon the good offices of the postal department, particularly the telegraph section if my reports had to reach in time. It is not so now — the reporter carries a laptop, types the report as the match is in progress, connects the wire and instantly the copy is relayed to the desk for editing.”

Among the pioneers of sports journalism in India mention must be made of Kishore Bhimani , K. Sundar Rajan , Moti Nandi , V. M. Balachandran (popularly known as Vimsy)  and T. D. Parthasarathy,

Sports Journalism in Odisha:

Sports Journalism does not have a long history in Orissa. In fact, till 70s many editors in mainstream Oriya newspapers did not consider sports newsworthy. It was only after early eighties that sports got wide coverage. There were two reasons. The first was the spread of television. People saw Asiad in 1982. India won Cricket World Cup in 1983. Interest for sports increased many fold. The second reason was the arrival of off set printing, which made printing of photographs easy and cost effective. Sambad started the trend of giving one full page to sports with large photographs. Other newspapers followed suit and it became a trend. Indian Express has also been encouraging sports journalism. Samaja used to have sports news. But it devoted more space and attention to sports only in the last 10 years.

Sports journalism is assuming greater importance in Odisha as interest of common people regarding sports is increasing. Athletes of Odisha are doing well in several disciplines. People want to know more about them and the sporting discipline. Media houses are trying to cater to the information need of people. Almost all mainstream newspapers and television channels have started having a separate sports desk with dedicated personnel. Although cricket is the staple of the sports page, other sports also found their way in. In fact it now occupies more pages. Coverage of tournaments in rural areas also find coverage now, which was practically unthinkabale before 80s. The sports pages are replete with colour pictures, titbit about major tournament and players, columns by prominent sports persons. 
 
Amal Ray and Bhairab Mohanty  used to contribute reports and features on sports to Samaja. Shyamakanta Pattnaik was a football referee. He used to send sports news to Samaja. Later he joined Samaja and handled sports desk.

Sanatan Pani started his career in Sambad in early 80s He later joined Indian Express and concentrated in sports journalism. Sambit Mohapatra also started his career as a sports journalist from Sambad.  Later he shifted to visual media and on end 2010 came back to print media. Among the other sports journalists active in 90s through present time mention must be made about Sanjeeb Biswal, Suresh Swain, Niranjan Reddy and Devi Prasanna Mohanty.

Sports & Youth Services Department of Government of Odisha has instituted an award for distinguished Sports Persons and Sports Journalists of the State from 2001.  Journalists who have won this award are Sanatan Pani (2002), Sambit Mohapatra and Ms Samikhya Pattnaik (2003). Ms Samikhya Pattnaik was the first person from the visual media and first lady to have won this award. In 2004 this award was conferred on Himansu Shekhar Pati Mishra. Susanta Kumar Mishra won this award in 2005. In 2006 it was given to Suresh Swain. Sanjeeb Biswal, Debi Prasanna Mohanty won this award in 2007 and 2008 respectively.  D. Niranjan Reddy and Gyan Ranjan Mishra won it on 2009.

Useful Books: Sports And Entertainment Journalism, Sita Ram Sharma, Friends Publications 
ISBN: 8172160933

[The author is the Professor and Head of Indian Institute of Mass Communication, Dhenkanal. Besides media, he writes on social issues and environment. He also writes fiction and has published 5 novels and 4 anthologies of short story. This article is a part of his forthcoming book on history of journalism in Orissa, scheduled to be published on end 2011. He can be contacted on mrinaliimc@yahoo.in
His website: www.mrinalchatterjee.in]

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